At a press conference this morning, Mayor Mike McGinn reiterated his request that City Attorney Pete Holmes be "ethically screened," or barred from participating in future talks between city officials and the court monitor tasked with ensuring that the Seattle Police Department take steps to curb its pattern of using excessive force with suspects, as well as biased policing.
"I would expect [Holmes] to do this," McGinn said. "It’s the right decision here."
Yesterday, McGinn accused Holmes of breaching attorney/client privilege while in communication with court monitor Merrick Bobb, a charge that Holmes denies.
The back story is a bit confusing. Here's the Cliff Notes: The city and court monitor are in the midst of negotiating the monitoring plan for SPD—including setting parameters for new police training, timelines for implementing that training, and follow-up audits. Bobb proposed a plan, Chief Diaz proposed a counter plan (which mayor McGinn calls "more aggressive" than Bobb's), and then, according to McGinn, Holmes sent an unprompted letter to Bobb—"not on behalf of us," McGinn says—proposing his own plan, which somehow allegedly breached "confidential conversations" to Bobb. (Again, Holmes denies this and none of the plans have been released to the public yet, which muddies everything.)
"If he’d like to be an advocate, he can be that advocate," McGinn says of Holmes. "In this case, we need an attorney that will respect confidences."
However, it seems that Holmes isn't planning on kowtowing to the mayor's request. A press release from his office sent today states:
City Attorney Pete Holmes will not screen himself from representing the City in this case. The City Charter gives the City Attorney supervisory control of all litigation and, although the City has entered a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, this remains a pending lawsuit under the supervision of a federal judge. Mr. Holmes has violated no client confidences or breached any ethical obligations to his client, the City of Seattle. Mr. Holmes communicated his position to the mayor’s legal counsel in a private letter today.
Which basically means this situation has de-evolved into a staring contest at high noon between political nerds. McGinn has few options if he wants to press the issue: he can let it go, he can lodge a bar complaint against Holmes (something he said this morning he wouldn't do), or he can bring the issue up before a federal judge during the city's next consent decree hearing, scheduled for March 12.